How Getting Away Helped this #GlobalFellow Align Her Career with Her Purpose

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

Victoria Ventosa had built a successful career in Program Management at one of the biggest companies in the world. But even as she attained these professional goals, she found herself wrestling with bigger questions about the overall direction her career, and how it contributes to the greater good. 

She eventually built up the courage to take a sabbatical away from work to find the answers. Her curiosity led her to the MovingWorlds Institute, where she gained the tools and support to make the most out of her time away.

See how Victoria’s leap of faith served as a catalyst for her personal and professional growth in her full interview below!

What inspired you to “take the leap” and go Experteering?

I was inspired to take the leap for so many reasons! For one, I had always wanted to live in a different country, as opposed to a quick tourist visit. I also wanted to challenge myself by applying my skills in a different environment. I wanted to learn more about the social sector, and experteering allowed for immersive learning while building real experience for my resume.

Coming from my background at a large corporation, I also felt the need to give back, having realized how lucky I was to have had so many opportunities in my life. I had some previous volunteering experience, but it didn’t involve using my professional skills, so I felt I still had a lot more to offer and could make an even bigger impact doing it differently this time. So, all in all, I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted to go Experteering. The only questions were when and how!

What were you doing before going Experteering?

I had been working in a multinational company for 7 years. I did enjoy my work, the environment, the career opportunities and so on. To be honest, it was this TED talk that finally nudged me to take the plunge and ask for a sabbatical year!

What did you do on your Experteering trip?

I partnered with a social impact consultancy called Rainbow Collection to help entrepreneurs bring their cleantech ideas to life. The Founder of Rainbow Collection brought me on board as the Colombia Program Manager to make the Climate Launchpad competition happen in Bogota for the very first time!

As background, Climate Launchpad is an entrepreneurship competition that offers support to would-be social entrepreneurs in developing their ideas for cleantech businesses addressing environmental challenges. 

The Climate Launchpad competition was originally started by Climate-KIC, the EU’s main climate innovation initiative. Now, Climate Launchpad is present in more than 50 countries around the world, with each country having its own program manager and local business host (in Colombia, that’s Rainbow Collection.) 

I started working on the project before I ever arrived in Colombia. For the two months leading up to my trip, I was in regular contact with both the European HQ of Climate Launchpad as well as Rainbow Collection to gather background information, do research, and develop a plan of action. 

In February, I traveled to the Netherlands to attend the Climate Launchpad kickoff meeting hosted by the core EU team, which brought all of the national leads for each country together to receive additional training to equip us for successful launches in our various locations. From there I continued on to Bogota.

Victoria (third from left) with colleagues at Climate Launchpad Colombia

Once on the ground in Bogota, it was time to find resources and participants. This involved a lot of networking! I reached out to CSR departments of large companies to see if they would be willing to sponsor the competition, and also connected with Universities and entrepreneurship associations for help spreading the word and sourcing applicants. 

How did this project challenge you to stretch beyond your comfort zone?

Coming from a large corporation, I was used to working internally to get things done, but this role required a shift to an outwardly oriented approach. Operating in a different cultural context within the entrepreneurship space to build external connections was absolutely a stretch experience, and I was very nervous before our first pitch with a big bank just two days after I arrived in Bogota. But, it turned out to be very successful, and having a few wins behind me and continuing to repeat the process built my confidence. Eventually, I had done the pitch so many times it felt like second nature! We met with so many different agencies and organizations, and I came to really enjoy gaining access to the inner workings of these different institutions, and realized that what matters most is person-to-person connection.

Applications to participate in the competition were open for 6 weeks, and we were pleasantly surprised when applications closed in mid-May how many high-quality submissions we received! We ultimately selected 18 teams to participate, and officially kicked off the competition at the beginning of August with a 2-day training workshop for the selected teams. 

Cleantech entrepreneurs at the 2-day workshop

The teams will continue to develop their ideas until the final pitch competition in October, after which we’ll select a winning team to represent Colombia in the Global Grand Finals hosted in Amsterdam. Once we select the winner from Colombia, I’ll return home to Barcelona until it’s time to support the Colombian team in the finals!

In the meantime, I’m working with Rainbow Collection on their strategy for 2020 to make sure we can keep the Climate Launchpad competition going strong again next year and incorporate the learnings from our first run. The goal for next year is to hire a local program manager with one of our partners. Based on the number of great applicants we got this round, we also want to expand it into 2 or even 3 competitions next year in other cities in Colombia. 

What was one highlight of your Experteering experience?

I’d have to say the highlight so far was the training we hosted for the 18 selected teams in August. The training is meant to be a “mini MBA” of sorts focusing on business models, marketing, and core questions. These are all very early-stage concepts, and the whole point of this project is to help entrepreneurs gain the skills they need to get their ideas off the ground. 

One of the biggest beer companies in Colombia agreed to be our in-kind sponsor, and they loaned us their offices to do the training. The offices were amazing!

Aside from the incredible setting, though, the most rewarding thing about that training was that I finally got to meet the participants face to face. As I mentioned before, I started getting involved remotely in early January, but this was the first time I got to meet the people we were ultimately doing this for. It was incredibly fulfilling to watch it all come together!

Selected teams at the “Mini-MBA” 2-day workshop

On a personal level, the biggest highlight has been getting to know myself a bit better. Getting out of my comfort zone challenged me to uncover who I really am at my core – what makes me happy, what scares me, what energizes me, what brings me down. That kind of self-knowledge is empowering, and will help me navigate my career moving forward in the best way for me.

What advice do you have for people thinking about Experteering?

Just do it. You end up regretting the things you didn’t do, rather than the things you did! I know that I was nervous about taking the leap, but now that I have, I’m wondering why I didn’t do it sooner.

How are you going to build on what you learned to create more of an impact in the future?

I used to think that a single person couldn’t have a significant impact, but I have been inspired by the many examples I encountered proving otherwise! Ultimately I have become more aware of the many different (and sometimes small) ways we can have an impact. As a consumer, it is up to me to make educated choices and be conscientious about what I buy and how it affects the planet. As a citizen, I can help to make sure that relevant topics (climate, social inclusion) are being dealt with by our institutions. As an employee, I have a voice inside of my company and can use that voice to advocate for better ways to work, even with something as small as choosing an organic cotton T-shirt for our company event. And finally, as a connected person, I can share my experiences with friends, family and even acquaintances to help spread the word.

How did your Fellowship cohort & curriculum help you reach your goals?

One of the biggest benefits of being part of the cohort for me was realizing that I wasn’t alone. I remember after the kickoff feeling like “Ok, I’m not crazy!” It was so reassuring to discover that there are other people like me who are on this path: struggling with these bigger questions about what direction to take our lives and careers and wanting to make an impact. It can be isolating to be surrounded by people on a set path who don’t understand, so a hugely valuable part of being part of a cohort was realizing I wasn’t alone in this and that others are searching for the same things. 

The fellowship curriculum was also very helpful – the books we read, talks we had, and mentoring all helped me prepare to succeed while experteering because I didn’t know anything about social entrepreneurship before. It gave me an entry point into this world of social impact, and a shared language to use to connect with new people and opportunities. In fact, I was able to connect with one of the potential partners we were pitching to here in Colombia over the fact that we’d read a few of the same books! 

Because my experteering project was longer term, I was on a slightly different timeline than many of the other Fellows in my cohort doing shorter-term projects. Seeing how my cohort was getting things done and being able to hear about their experiences was very encouraging. Overall, the fellowship gave me the courage to do what I wanted to do all along, which was to have a longer, really immersive experience living in a different culture. I feel like this has been my tailor-made year; I gained valuable work experience, but also have had the time to explore hobbies like scuba diving. It’s been an incredible experience!

If you’re like Victoria and wrestling with bigger questions about the direction and impact of your career, take the first step toward your own transformational journey by applying to our Global Fellowship